Story #29

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Abubacar W. – Big Steps for a Little Boy

BronxWorks Early Childhood Learning Center Head Start Program

Since the school year began in September, Abubacar has struggled with his first school experience.  At four-and-a-half years old, his teachers found his development to be below the level a child should be at his age.  They were concerned by the fact that he was nonverbal, didn’t have any fine motor skills, and needed help with simple self-care activities like putting his coat on to go out to play.

There is a logical reason for Abubacar’s situation.  He was born in the US but Abubacar’s family is from the West African country of Gambia and his parents speak Soninke.  The US Census considers the Bronx to be the most diverse area in the country and over 55% of the borough’s residents speak a non-English language at home.  Furthermore, the Soninke language isn’t written, so Abubacar’s mother is not literate in any language and his father, the sole source of financial support for the family, is rarely available.  An older brother tries to help Abubacar as much as possible, as he understands more English than their parents.  This background presents challenges for a young child in learning English and achieving educational progress.

But Abubacar is a bright and eager student and his teachers, Moyjae Aaron and Diane Semper, have been instrumental in providing the support and guidance for his needs.  The two have worked very closely with him to develop his skills.  Abubacar’s classmates are also very supportive and caring, particularly one little girl named Lidiana who is also learning to speak English.  She’ll call out to him, “Come on Abubacar,” encouraging him to play with her and the other children.

Abubacar has made excellent progress, a step at a time.  For example, the program began to serve the children family-style lunches with fruits and vegetables he was unaccustomed to eating.  Abubacar was reluctant at first, but became increasingly comfortable as he observed his classmates serving and eating their food.  After a little while, Moyjae notes, “he followed and did as they did.”

Before Abubacar was able to speak with his classmates, he took the step to mouth along with whatever activity or song the others were saying.  Soon, Abubacar started raising his hand to identify the day of the week or count numbers on the calendar.  He began to talk to the children during playtime and after a couple of months would respond to adults’ questions.  He became “much more confident with being part of the class,” says Moyjae.  In fact, he has grown so confident that in response to a classmate’s recent question about why they don’t play more at school, Abubacar piped up and stated, “School is not about play, it is about learning!”  Another wonderful step!

His teachers have also worked closely with Abubacar to develop his motor skills.  In September, he couldn’t hold a pencil or crayon to make any kinds of lines or marks.  They worked with Abubacar to grip onto a crayon to begin to make scribbles.  Abubacar’s family was asked to help him practice this at home, which he did until he was able to make more distinct marks representing letters.  Now he is trying very hard to write his name (pictured above).

Abubacar’s family is very pleased with his progress.  And speaking of big steps, his mother is now connected with BronxWorks services too, as she enrolled in an English for Speakers of Other Languages class to get help with basic reading and writing.  Thanks to dedicated BronxWorks staff, partners, and friends, we will continue to lift lives and build bright futures for children like Abubacar, one step at a time.

BronxWorks operates two Early Childhood Learning Centers.  These high-quality, full-day childcare facilities have classrooms that serve children from 3-5 years old, with a heavy emphasis on age-appropriate learning and social skills development to prepare children for elementary school.  The Head Start program emphasizes parent, family, and community engagement, promoting family well-being, supporting strong relationships between parents and children, and nurturing ongoing learning and development for both parents and children.  Participating families all meet the federal poverty guidelines and parents are either working or going to school.  Questions or comments? Send them to

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